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What should a regular physics undergraduate program consist of?

  1. Jun 2, 2008 #1
    Suddenly I'm curious what other uni physics students do and I am studying the physics curriculum of another local uni just now, but it seems there're a lot of differences between the two top uni here...we took a-level here so it's a 3-year program.

    The core courses are: 1 year on some fundamental courses, then classical mechanics, e&m, quantum mechanics (half of Grittiths' book), thermodynamics, some math courses(ode, vector cal, linear algebra), programming, labs, any more? That's what i'm doing in my uni. And does it seem inadequate?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 2, 2008 #2
    I think that's about right, judging by what I've read, I know my school requires:

    chem 1&2, calc 1-3, differential equations, phy 1&2 (freshman mechanics and E&M respectively), thermo, modern physics 1&2, classical mech, E&M, QM, than a math course for theoretical physics; everything else is electives; I have seen schools like UCF and FSU that have combined physics degree programs like physics/comp-sci, physics/bio, physics/philosophy, physics/law, physics/business; and other combinations with subsets of physics like lasers and astronomy, alot of different programs out there apparently.
  4. Jun 2, 2008 #3


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    Well this is what it's like at my school:

    Year 1: (Sophomore)
    Newtonian mechanics, Lab Course (both semesters), Signal processing, Intro to thermodynamics + waves, Cal3, ODEs, Linear
    Year 2:
    Electronics, E&M, Advanced Calculus, Classical Mechanics, EM Waves, Lab Course, Thermodynamics+Statmech
    Year 3:
    Optics, Modern Physics, Lab in modern physics, Quantum, Undergrad reserach project

    My main complaint about this particular program is that quantum should be introduced in the second year.
  5. Jun 2, 2008 #4
    here was my undergrad,
    required - intro mechanics, intro E&M, intro modern, thermodynamics,
    1-year mechanics, 1-year E&M(entire Griffiths book), 1-year QM, Sr Physics Lab
    Calculus 1-3, Diffy Eq 1 &2, Numerical Analysis
    Intro Quantitative Chem and Intro Qualitative Chem
    In addition to the required courses you had to take 5 more higher level math or science classes as technical electives, linear algebra was typically the first choice here
  6. Jun 2, 2008 #5
    At my school:

    Univ. Physics I: mechanics
    Univ. Physics II: waves, optics, thermal/fluid + lab
    Univ. Physics III: e&m, intro to quantum + lab

    Thermal physics
    Classical mechanics I
    Classical Mechanics II
    E&M I
    E&M II
    modern physics + lab
    QM I
    senior lab

    Recommended math courses: Calc I-III, diff eq, linear algebra, analysis, etc.
  7. Jun 2, 2008 #6


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    It might be helpful to provide textbook-titles that may be used for these courses at your institutions.
  8. Jun 2, 2008 #7
    Take a gander at the physics GRE topic list and distribution.
  9. Jun 3, 2008 #8
    After reading the replies, it really seems that mine is merely enough. 1-sem classical mech, 1-sem classical em and 1-sem QM only. Most others are spending 2 sems on these topics. (although there are "sequels" to those courses, they're just not in the core.) In fact I've no idea what direction I'll go when I grad next year...my results are just so-so, some As some Bs. no particular strength (or weakness~). no particular interest.

    Textbooks...I can't remember much...Classical mech: analytical mechanics (sth like that, with a man riding on a bicycle on the cover) e&m, qm: griifiths (half only), (thermo: forgot the name) and halliday one in first year.
  10. Jun 3, 2008 #9
    My school:

    Calc 1 thru 3 (Linear Algebra is crammed into Calc 2)
    Diff Eq.
    Intro Computing
    General Chem. w/ Lab
    Intro Physics 1 and 2 w/ Lab
    Modern Physics
    Classical Mech. 1
    Electromagnetism 1 & 2
    Quantum Mech. 1 & 2
    Statistical Mechanics
    Advanced Lab 1

    Thats all the the required classes for Physics majors, the only other Physics requirement is another physics lab science, which would either be Optics + Optics Lab, Electronics, or Advanced Lab 2 (there might be others but I'm fairly certain those are the only other lab sciences offered). There are required technical electives too of course, but those don't necessarily have to be physics electives.
  11. Jun 3, 2008 #10


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  12. Jun 3, 2008 #11
  13. Jun 3, 2008 #12

    Andy Resnick

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    Since the thread title asks "what SHOULD a regular undergrad program consist of", I feel compelled to state that the current canonical physics curriculum (of which several examples have been given) only addresses the needs of students interested in persuing physics at a graduate level. That is, the current physics curriculum is narrowly targeted to those few of us committed to persuing an advanced degree in physics. As a consequence, increasing numbers of otherwise well-educated individuals know less and less physics, to the ultimate detriment of the physics community, who relies on taxpayer-funded generosity to continue to work and eat.

    I think the canonical physics curriculum is overdue for a through overhaul, with the goal of producing graduates that can go out into the world and *use their undergraduate physics degree to do physics*.

    This means producing graduates that can, for example, operate and maintain advanced industrial and scientific equipment. Or effectively integrate into an engineering team. Or provide guidance for an industrial R&D effort. Or any number of things that we currently claim a BS in physics is good for, but rarely ever occurs in practice.

    That means giving up a lot of the canonical material to make room for new things like "device physics", "semiconductor physics", "medical physics", etc. Maybe it means that it's not possible anymore to have a 'physics' major, just as there's no such thing as majoring in 'engineering'.

    Food for thought....
  14. Jun 3, 2008 #13


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    This is the program at my school: (only listing the options I have chosen, or am planning to chose)

    Year 1

    1. Analysis I
    2. Maths Foundations (sets, number systems, counting, modular arithmetic, groups)
    3. Ordinary Differential Equations
    4. Relativity
    5. Physics Foundations (dimensional analysis, SHM, waves)
    6. Mechanics A
    7. Electricity and Magnetism
    8. Linear Algebra
    9. Analysis II
    10. Waves
    11. Probability A
    12. Probability B
    13. Thermal Physics I
    14. Quantum Phenomena

    Year 2

    1. Vector Analysis
    2. Analysis III
    3. Advanced Linear Algebra
    4. Geometry
    5. Quantum Mechanics
    6. Lagrangian and Hamiltonian Mechanics
    7. Metric Spaces
    8. Differentiation
    9. Algebra II : Groups and Rings
    10. Partial Differential Equations
    11. Mathematical Methods for Physicists II
    12. Electromagnetic Theory and Optics
    13. Physics of Fluids
    14. Thermal Physics II
    15. Variational Principles
    16. Mathematical Biology

    Year 3

    1. Measure Theory
    2. Fluid Dynamics
    3. Functional Analysis
    4. Cosmology
    5. Quantum Physics of Atoms
    6. Electrodynamics
    7. Nonlinearity
    8. Statistical Physics
    9. Quantum Physics of Solids
    10. Advanced Electrodynamics
    11. Complex Analysis
    12. Differential Geometry
    13. Theory of Partial Differential Equations
    14. Continuum Mechanics
    15. Condensed Matter Physics
    16. Particle Physics
    17. Kinetic Theory
    18. Astrophysics
    19. Scattering and Spectroscopy

    Year 4

    1. Relativity and Electrodynamics
    2. The Standard Model
    3. Functional Analysis II
    4. Relativistic Quantum Mechanics
    5. Gauge Theories
    6. General Relativity
    7. Dynamical Systems
    8. Structure and Dynamics of Solids
    9. Solar Magnetohydrodynamics
    10. Statistical Mechanics of Complex Systems
    11. High Energy Astrophysics

    EDIT : Forgot to mention that this is a maths + physics course.
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2008
  15. Jun 3, 2008 #14


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    Can you explain how exactly you plan to take 19 classes in a year??
  16. Jun 3, 2008 #15


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    Some places are beginning to do just that. I'm not a physics major, but here at LSU physics majors can do a concentration in Medical Physics as an undergrad. There's even a minor in nuclear physics that consists almost entirely of medical physics courses. All physics majors are also required to take "Instrumentation Electronics for Scientists," as well as a numerical analysis class from the physics department. It's a year long class, but only the first semester is required. There's also a physics with second discipline option where 24 hours of your major goes to another field like some branch of engineering or comp sci.

    I think physics departments are aware of the problems with just a BS in physics, and some seem willing to fix that problem.
  17. Jun 3, 2008 #16


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    I've taken 16 and others here have as well (don't do it).
    With 19 courses, I assume he just took a bunch during summer, maybe even a full summer semester
  18. Jun 3, 2008 #17


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    That's madness.
  19. Jun 3, 2008 #18


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    By working hard :). But no, don't take the number too seriously, I don't really know if I'll be taking all of the ones I listed. There were too many options to list, so I just listed the ones that looked interesting, or essential.
  20. Jun 4, 2008 #19
    Your Year 3 looks like one hell of a year even if you are doing some of that as summer classes. Maybe I'm naive but I didn't know schools offered any upper division classes liek that over the summer. But really I could never finish a year like that
  21. Jun 4, 2008 #20


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    Is this the program from http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/physics/undergraduate_study/physics_courses/ ?
    I can't tell if the terms are 14-week "semesters", 10-week "quarters", etc...

    Certainly, this academic program is different from that of a typical undergraduate program from an American college or university.
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